[VIEWPOINT]Easy Riders Hitching a Free Lift to Fame

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[VIEWPOINT]Easy Riders Hitching a Free Lift to Fame

The recent hit TV drama series, "Ajumma," contained a particularly impressive scene. One of the main characters in the drama, a vain member of the intelligentsia, advises his friend that if he wishes to become famous he should attack someone famous and influential. I think the remark resonated because it tapped into something that occurs often today, where those who lack talent try to access fame by launching attacks on the successful.

We can categorize those who have acquired power and fame into two lots: those who secured outstanding influence in their fields based on their own arduous efforts, and those who have become celebrities by attempting to defame the former. While the former earned respect through talent and perseverance, the latter are mere free loaders.

I will never know the real intention of the writer of the drama, but the first thing came into my head on hearing this character's line was the case of Professor Kim Yong-ok, who became well-known for his TV lectures on Confucius and Lao-tzu. No matter what others say, Mr. Kim does have charisma - even my mother, in her 80s, stays up part of her bedtime to watch him. I believe he should be credited for dusting off the theories of Confucius and Lao-tzu and presenting them in a way that interests the general public. But he is hit with criticisms from all sides, and his ordeal has to do with his appearance on the most powerful instrument of the mass media. This is not a society that leaves success alone. The so-called intelligentsia began to ravage him, right down to his lecture style and choice of words. New-found critics began popping up like comets in the sky. Each one was given newspaper column space, because no newspaper wants to be left out of a storm. On the whole, what Mr. Kim's critics hoped to gain from their hatchet jobs was sweet, easily acquired power by trampling Mr. Kim's hard-earned recognition.

"The Emperor Yung-cheng," by Japanese historian Miyazaki Ichisada, describes cases in 17th century China where the intelligentsia enjoyed a free ride to power. In feudal societies, government officials usually comprise members of the literati, and those under the rule of Emperor Yung-cheng would publish collections of their letters to the Emperor in which they proffered advice on how to correct bad policies. Emperor Yung-cheng gave personal replies to each of his subordinates' letters. Sometimes these replies were published alongside the complaints to which they responded, but in many cases the officials would print only those they felt vindicated their criticism, highlighted the eloquence of their complaints or accentuated their bravery. They would leave out letters where the emperor skillfully refuted their arguments. Their publications served solely in praise of their daring and integrity, often at the expense of truth.

An example of the recent practice of this low tactic is when a congressman earned fame by calling the current President Kim Dae-jung a liar and arguing his lips should be stitched with a sewing machine to ensure he did not do it again.

And I assume a famous newspaper columnist who was recently berated by an Internet newspaper for "biased" criticism of President Kim Dae-jung did this not to comment objectively but to hitch a ride to fame on the back of an influential institution.

Slandering in the political field is out of control today. No matter where they reside, in the ruling or opposition parties, politicians lose themselves in a frenzy of mud-slinging the moment they sniff a competitor approaching power. More seriously, the public is often swayed by these practices rather than discerning who's right and who's wrong. I am seriously concerned that these practices could undermine the nation itself.

Of course, the strong and powerful should be subject to criticism; but we should distinguish opportunistic put-downs from real criticism. That's what "Ajumma" taught us.


The writer is a professor of culture and tourism at Sookmyung Women's University.

by Hong Sa-jong

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